A Wild Airport Project: Relocating Animals from the Airfield
When Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport needed to build a new loop road to improve vehicle access and limit runway incursions, it faced a challenge unique to its area. Florida burrowing owls and gopher tortoises had taken up residence on the airfield, requiring experts who could find the protected species and safely relocate them, while navigating tight timelines, cold weather, and a strict Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission permitting process.
Gopher tortoises in particular, whose populations are threatened throughout Florida, are protected by strict regulations that protect them and their underground burrows.
Sherri Swanson, a senior environmental scientist for HDR and a certified Gopher Tortoise Agent, was brought in to survey the project area and identify the tortoise and owl burrows in the path of the proposed construction. After securing the correct permits and waiting for the right weather window, Swanson and HDR engineer Ryan Beckman then safely removed all of the owls and tortoises in the project area. New starter burrows were dug for the owls in a different area of the airport, while 20 gopher tortoises were relocated to a new home elsewhere in Florida.
Swanson and Beckman wrote about the challenge and their work in an article for the October edition of Airport Business magazine. With the threatened species addressed, construction of the loop road proceeded and was completed in spring 2019.